Posts Tagged ‘morphosis’

US Embassy in London Competition

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

A collection of images from the recently closed competition for the United States Embassy in London:


Richard Meier’s (New York) entry above.morphosis_embassy

The design from Morphosis (Santa Monica).

23piecobb_cap-popupThe Pei Cobb Freed entry (New York).

1267025314-kt-03-528x376Sadly, the image above is from the winning entry from Kieran Timberlake (Philadelphia).

Selected reading regarding the competition:


A/N Blog

The New York Times

The (in which Sir Richard Rogers decrees that the winning entry is “unfit to represent the US in Britain.”)

Dallas Arts District

Saturday, February 6th, 2010
Wyly Theatre - Rem

Rem sums up my feelings nicely

Buildings by REX/OMA. Renzo Piano. Norman Foster. I. M. Pei. Morphosis. Allied Works. All in one district; literally next door to each other and across the street from one another. Four Pritzker Prize winners’ buildings elbow to elbow. Should be great, no?

Wyly Theatre

The recent opening of REX/OMA’s Wyly Theatre (above) has brought a new spate of attention to this district within Dallas. David Dillon of the Dallas Morning News addressed this topic lightly in his article for Architectural Record, subtitled, “Does an impressive collection of buildings add up to a truly urban neighborhood for the arts?” The goal for the district, as stated in the original Carr Lynch report which spurred the civic project, was to “not to create memorable buildings or support real estate development, but to bring the arts into the lives of the people of Dallas, in an immediate and personal way, in the course of everyday life.”

Dallas Arts District

But I believe David Dillon was much to deferential in his final judgment, in which he stated that: “Architecture can do only so much. Without sensitively designed streets, plazas, and landscapes — a so-called “public realm” — even great buildings end up as solitary objects, wonderful to look at but lifeless and forbidding. . . Street life remains a fantasy, with no shops and cafés, only a handful of restaurants, and few public events outside the walls of the cultural institutions. Most nights and weekends, the ‘urban neighborhood’ is dead.”

Wyly Theatre - lobby

Lifeless and forbidding is probably the best thing I believe you can say about any of these buildings. Though some deserve it more than others, without a doubt. I bristle at Dillon’s statement that “Architecture can only do so much.” It only feels that way because of the limited scope of consciousness displayed by buildings such as the Wyly Theatre, which seems to have no regard for anything outside of the tight shirts of its designers. Architecture can do so much more–it just isn’t on display here.

Dallas Arts District 2

So I’m going to go out and say what Dillon is merely insinuating, which is that this Dallas Arts District is one of the most disturbing, anti-architectural, and plain wrong-headed urban developments currently going on in America (there is too much bad urbanism in other parts of the world to warrant competition with the world). It does the architectural profession, the city, and humanity in general no greater disservice than to see a bunch of cocksure blowhard “designers” strut around stages arguing for their technical monstrosities in this district while their buildings are completely bereft of any urban or humanistic (to say nothing of “architectural”) sensitivity. This is both the culmination of the planning of this district, a type which I thought we had learned was anti-urban half a century ago, but also because of the sad nature of the buildings within them, which do nothing to address this. At the very least, this district, and each of the buildings within them, fail at the stated goal, which is “to bring the arts into the lives of the people of Dallas, in an immediate and personal way, in the course of everyday life.”

Wyly Theatre 2

From the New Yorker: “the National Endowment for the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, which indicates that the number of people who venture out to classical music performances in a given year has been declining for almost three decades. Further, each new generation participates less than the one that came before it. Generation X, which is now entering middle age, shows no sign of chucking its Pixies records in favor of Prokofiev.” Sadly, Architecture isn’t going to change that–certainly not in Dallas. Not because it can’t, but because it isn’t even thinking about it.

Blade Runner

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009


Blade Runner
1982, 117 minutes
directed by Ridley Scott

Two years prior to the symbolic date of 1984, Ridley Scott released this film based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. It stars Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos and Daryl Hannah. In the film, Harrison Ford plays a bounty hunter hired to search and destroy rogue ‘replicants,’ genetically engineered machines designed to be identical to human beings, yet used exclusively for labor. The date is 2019, and the place is Los Angeles.

In terms of the progression of this semester’s films, it serves as one of the dystopic bookends of these cinematic investigations into the city and architecture. Metropolis, by Fritz Lang in 1927, a film which essentially established the genre, imagined the city as completely beholden to the industrial revolution that was gripping the first world at the turn of the century. As the machines fall towards the end of that movie and the indentured servants are released from their servitude, perhaps we can see Blade Runner as the result of that uprising in Metropolis; the city in Blade Runner is a city of endless hordes of disenfranchised, despairing, and dispersed masses of people (almost all Asian, (un)surprisingly). There is no implied order, no nods to any sort of benevolent government in place, nor any sense of optimism. The setting for epitomized dystopia moves from the East Coast to the West Coast, from a fictional New York to a fictional Los Angeles. The dystopia arcs from one of stifling order to one of bewildering disarray.

Blade Runner has shown incredible longevity as a film. As Pauline Kael put it in her otherwise tepid and uncomprehending review, “[Blade Runner] has its own look, and a visionary sci-fi movie that has its own look can’t be ignored—it has its place in film history.” But it isn’t quite so simple as merely the look of the city that distinguishes Blade Runner, it’s also the conception of dystopia that it presents. Much like the way classical, Newtonian physics was superseded by the hazy, cloudy realms of relativity and quantum mechanics; technology, once the force of order and oppression in Metropolis, morphs into the ambiguous field of chaos and unknowability in Blade Runner.

This quantum world view is probably most apparent in one of the largest themes running through Blade Runner, that of the humanity of the ‘replicants.’ Though they are visually and interactively indistinguishable from humans, they are none the less ruthlessly hunted down whenever they disobey (they even possess the wherewithal to disobey). Whereas Fritz Lang asked us to decide between human and machine, Ridley Scott asked us where one begins and the other ends.

If there is one city that could serve as an example of the broken promise of Modernism, an ethos essentially rooted in the classical Newtonian world-order view, it might be Los Angeles. There, the pernicious grid, that pseudo-neutral system that imposes political hierarchy spreads throughout the desert landscape and blankets it with an industriocratic stupor. The existence of the grid implies a distinction between planner and planned—it is the manifestation of Nietzschian hubris via technology that culminates in a Hegelian subject-object dichotomy. Los Angeles, then, presents the perfect setting for contemporary urban alienation. In April 1992, Los Angeles was besieged by the Rodney King riots. Though the ostensible impetus for those riots was the verdict of the eponymous trial, if we abstract those events to be indicative towards a shifting relationship between subject and object, it thus can be seen to presage the banlieu riots of Paris and post-9/11 non-nation state terrorism.
Thom Mayne, the principal and founder of Morphosis, a Pritzker Prize winning practice based in Los Angeles, has often spoken of the need for “an architecture of resistance.” His insightful, incisive, and eloquent critiques of the nature of building public buildings today (see his interviews published recently in The New York Times), most poignantly aimed at the Ground Zero debacle, point to the interdependency of architecture, politics, and urbanism. If we take the 1968 generation of architects to be the resistance against Modernism, then today we have a need for a resistance against the society of the spectacle.

(originally written April 17, 2007)